For centuries, prototyping has been a proven method of designing, developing and perfecting a product, allowing designers to experiment with an object’s function and appearance, actively test its performance, and compellingly present it to stakeholders. Today, innovative approaches to prototyping as exemplified by titans such as Google, as well as lesser known but still highly successful businesses, have evolved prototyping into an art and best practice for companies both large and small.
Despite a proliferation of white papers, podcasts, and TED talks extolling the virtues of prototyping, the method can be fraught with predictable difficulties for even the most experienced design and development professionals.
At Pivot, we’re experts in product design services and product prototype manufacturing. We’ve partnered with hundreds of businesses to help them successfully design, develop, and launch their products and optimize their operations.
What follows are three key considerations that we’ve found useful in helping our clients investigate, understand, and overcome prototyping pitfalls.
1. Getting caught in the sunk cost trap.
When designers invest unwarranted time and expense into prototypes too early in the process the result is often sunk costs that can fuel an irrational commitment to continuing rather than reevaluating how best to proceed. By prototyping with incremental orders of fidelity — starting out “lean” and beefing up investment only as the prototype succeeds across multiple iterations — designers can avoid the sunk cost trap. At Pivot, we offer designers a free consultation with one of our engineers to enable them to accurately predict, scale and allocate their prototyping expenses.
2. Failing to ask fundamental questions.
Designers often jump to elements of high-fidelity prototyping before they’ve fully thought through certain foundational assumptions, leading them to answer the wrong questions and essentially “bring a gun to a fistfight.” Paradoxically, this danger can be particularly pronounced with the use of prototyping software: in skipping over low-fidelity considerations, it can lend itself to the illusion that fundamental questions have already been asked and answered.
Before ever starting a prototype, it’s important to identify the particular questions a prototype is designed to answer. Designers need to behave much like scientists at this point of the prototyping process, developing a clear, explicit, working hypothesis about specific ways a product will perform in order to run an experiment about the validity of this hypothesis. Said differently, without a designer having a clear sense of what question he or she is trying to answer via the prototype, prototypes are often created that either succeed in ways that are largely irrelevant or fall short in ways that are difficult for designers to recognize and evaluate.
3. Falling prey to investment bias.
It’s human nature for a designer to be invested in their own ideas, often at the cost of seeing them objectively. When designers become too identified with their own design, it can cloud their vision and preclude their recognition that a design doesn’t hold the merit they think it does or blinds them to significant design changes that must be made in order for prototyping to successfully proceed.
Investment bias can become particularly tricky when the central idea or design is basically sound or even revolutionary but the designer is unwilling to compromise on peripheral features. Though Steve Jobs became legendary for his refusal to compromise during the process of prototyping what became the original iPhone, his refusal was backed by twenty years of experience and multi-million dollar R&D budget.
When it comes to the investment bias, forewarned is forearmed. Simply being aware of the danger of becoming too personally invested in a design can help protect designers from this prototyping pitfall. And by being realistic about a design’s potential shortcomings and actively soliciting feedback early on — especially from an experienced design services team — designers can ensure that they don’t become overly invested in “barking up the wrong tree.”
At Pivot, we bring over 40 years of experience in offering product design and complete prototyping services to entrepreneurial start-ups and established corporations alike to help them bring profitable products to domestic and international markets. If you’re ready to take the steps to prototype a product or are simply looking to optimize your manufacturing operations, we can help. Contact us today and see what we can do for you.